Arlington, VA — Tonight the Senate passed a bill providing the Veterans Choice Program — which is facing an urgent budget shortfall — with emergency funding for the next six months. The measure passed the House unanimously earlier this week.
The bill includes some commonsense budget offsets and changes in the hiring process for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, the measure also couples the Choice Program funding with new leases for medical centers, despite a lack of a comprehensive assessment of the VA’s capital needs. The overall cost of the bill is $3.9 billion, with $2.1 billion going towards the Choice Program.
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Policy Director Dan Caldwell issued the following statement:
“The good news is that veterans who are able to successfully use the Choice Program won’t have to worry about lapses in their care. The bad news is that this bill is unnecessarily costly because some veterans groups and elected officials decided to make this moment about political games instead of veterans’ needs. We saw a preview of how opponents of expanding veterans’ access to health care will try to inject their anti-choice agenda into the legislative process in upcoming months. Our group will continue fighting for a permanent, systemic reform that removes the VA as the middleman and empowers veterans with real choice over their care. Veterans will remember who acted in their best interest.”
Some Veteran Service Organizations (VSO)s and members of Congress spread false information about an earlier House proposal to fund the Choice Program. They misleadingly conveyed to their audiences that the solution was a step towards privatization of the VA. Rep. Walz (D-MN), a ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, voted against the early measure.
Throughout this process, CVA advocated for Congress to authorize Secretary Shulkin with the ability to transfer existing VA funds into the Choice Program.